Thank you for being so patient, I know you’ve all been on pins and needles waiting for Part 2 of my list list of artist mistakes. Please be sure to read Part 1 of this post, which includes a brief introduction so you know what this list is all about. This list could go on and on, so I may be making it a routine end of year post.
In my first post, I invite you all to feel free to add to the list of mistakes by including your own in the comments, but for some reason the comments section is missing from that post! I made sure the comments box was checked on this post, so again, please feel free to add to the discussion. And remember, one of the main reasons we are here on earth is to make mistakes, learn from them and move forward to share our knowledge with others. Take it from me, a serial mistake maker, sometimes we will make the same mistakes again and again. Even so, we do eventually learn from them.
- Not painting enough/not having enough work. When I retired from adjunct teaching last year, I thought my time in the studio would be limitless and although I still never seem to have enough, it has improved tremendously. Getting into the studio first and then getting in there enough is the most common problem that many workshop participants share with me and even though my situation has now improved, I know this frustrating experience very well. When I first started to consider myself an artist, I thought I was very disciplined, but I really wasn’t. Like most of us, I had always balanced my art career with other part or full time jobs. Unfortunately, my studio time took a back seat to jobs and other life responsibilities. My lack of studio discipline became glaringly apparent during my first semester in grad school when I almost failed out due to lack of work for my review (eesh). Even though, I learned the hard way how to make time for the studio then, my studio discipline began to deteriorate when I graduated and started teaching. I loved teaching but I had so much to learn about doing it that I threw everything I had into preparing for my classes. I had been spending all of my studio time making samples for teaching that I had made very little to no work of my own. It was after my second year of teaching that my department head told me I needed to start exhibiting or lose my job. It was then that I really set my focus on my studio work. It wasn’t that everything else took a back seat, but the studio took precedent. I began saying NO to many social activities, I let the house get messy and later, hired someone to help me clean, let the laundry go a little longer, let the phone ring, etc. It has been an ongoing project to balance my studio work with all the other ‘stuff’, but I have figured out how to make it work. I first set myself a strict schedule and actually wrote it out, signed it and posted it. It really helps to write it out and sign it like a real contract. Next, I started my ‘studio log’; a journal where I jot down the date, in/out time and what I accomplished in the studio. I rarely look at this log, but just like the schedule, it helps to write it out on paper. I also had to sacrifice a lot in terms of friends, etc. but what is a little sacrifice when you’re doing the work you were meant to do? It’s not really a sacrifice at all and the people who care about you will totally understand. The ones who don’t..well, who needs them around anyway? There are millions of books and articles about creating boundaries and saying no, but a really fun, easy read specifically for creatives is Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod. A great article called Creative People Say No by Kevin Ashton has been passed around extensively. Last, a super fun blog post by Austin Kleon, the author of Steal Like an Artist, shares humorous ‘NO’ letters by famous creatives. Feel free to share your favorite books and articles on this this subject in the comments section.
- Not saying no to poor opportunities. This is sort of a continuation to the last list item, but slightly different. When I graduated from grad school I made a pact with myself that I would say yes to every opportunity that came my way. For emerging artists, I still believe that every opportunity no matter how ‘small’ it seems, may lead to something bigger and it almost always does. You never know who is going to see your show, your talk, your article, etc., and how that could lead to more amazing things. Try to think of an opportunity as a tree with extensions of roots, branches, leaves, flowers, seeds and fruit and you can’t lose. However, as I cross the threshold from emerging to mid-career, I have found that there is a dark side to saying yes to every opportunity and I have learned to weigh my opportunities and appropriately say no to those I feel may not bear fruit. I feel terribly guilty saying no, it brings about fears that once I close one door another will never open again, but that has yet to happen. For me, weighing opportunities always starts with my time and how much of it will be invested vs. my payment in terms of benefits. As I write that last sentence, I’m think it may appear selfish, but I’m older than I was, time is of the essence and it must be very considered in terms of business. Of course, one never knows how an opportunity will reap benefits-again, some of those ‘small’ opportunities do tend to pay back. For this reason, each opportunity is very carefully weighed, researched and deliberated over many days, sometimes weeks. I say no very rarely, but I’m proud to say that I have successfully mastered this simple word on a few occasions.
- Selling my work too low too long. Before Internet commerce really took hold, most artists and galleries only had web sites featuring their portfolios and it was rare to see pricing with those portfolios. This made it difficult to compare my prices with a wide range of art and artists and I also didn’t have the benefit of so many helpful blogs, podcasts, videos, etc. Instead, I relied on the advice of other artists, looking at pricing at galleries, art centers, shows, etc, but this was very limiting and a lot of my initial pricing was guess work. There is so much to consider when pricing and I’m not going to discuss formulas or even numbers because they vary so much from artist to artist. What I will say is that my pricing was so low when I started selling with a young gallery that on more than one occasion, my commission on the sale of multiple paintings averaged less than pricing on a print. My heart sank each time I received my check and did the math. By the time I started to make a name for myself and get into better galleries, 2008 reared it’s ugly head and I couldn’t raise my prices then, right? So they stayed pretty much the same for about 8 or 9 years and probably would still be the same if it wasn’t for a wonderful gallerist who kindly, but firmly told me my prices were way too low. This is why it’s so important to always pay attention to your pricing. Make your pricing a significant part of your annual business duties and create a schedule to review them and regularly raise them a certain percentage each time. If you’re looking for pricing advice, there is a ton of it out there, just google it. But make sure you’re reading from a reputable source…I like RedDot Blog for good artist advice, Alyson Stanfield’s Blog is excellent for many art related business topics and if you’re signed up as an artist on Saatchi, their newsletter has helpful selling advice.
- Not reading enough. As an artist juggling teaching, studio work and the business of making art, how does one have time to read? Like anything, we have to make time for it. I was such an avid reader when I was young. I constantly had a book in hand and never had to be prompted to settle down to read like other kids at school. In middle school, we had times during the day when the principal would announce over the loud speaker that it was time to drop everything going on in class and read for 30 minutes (I loved when this happened in gym class). So maybe I was a bit of a nerd, but I did love to read and still do. However, as I got older, went to college, started working many jobs-sometimes three at a time, reading became a thing I only did on vacation and eventually only sporadically or not at all. I would still visit libraries, sit on the floor and look at art books for hours, but sitting and reading a book cover to cover was a thing of the past. In my mid-thirties, I got accepted to grad school and had to read as part of my research and the world of reading opened for me once again. I discovered in school that reading is an integral part of my work as an artist, so I made it a habit to carve out a bit of studio time each day to do it. I have a stack of books and periodicals set aside, I set my timer for 30 minutes and settle in to my comfy chair to read. As my students will attest, I believe setting the timer is essential as it creates a beginning and an end, a window of time. For that 30 minutes you don’t have to worry or think about anything else but the task at hand. I know that 30 minutes of reading is nothing to most people, but you would be amazed at how much you can accomplish in a week if you do just a little bit a day. When I think about all the lost time I spent not reading, it only makes me more determined to read everything on my extensive Amazon wishlist. The more I read, the more informed, grounded and expanded my ideas become and the more interesting my work is to make as well as view.
- Not becoming a member of the art museum. My humble city of Philadelphia is a great city and we have many awesome museums, with the Philadelphia Museum of Art as one of the best. I have visited the PMA frequently since I was an 18 year old undergrad and have watched the museum grow from really good to truly great. Sometimes I just feel myself drawn to it’s quiet echo, its musty smell and the lovely gardens and river surroundings. Most of all, I’m drawn to the old collections of art and craft. I rarely visit the contemporary sections of the PMA simply because I don’t find much of it inspiring. I want to see color relationships, brush stroke, composition, etc. I want to learn from the Old Masters as they learned. I have many favorite sections and always choose just one to focus my attention per visit. I always bring a sketchbook, but I rarely sketch, most of the time I just sit on a bench for hours trying to absorb it all through my skin. It’s my refuge and a place I can go to consistently be inspired in a vast, quiet space. I sporadically had student memberships as an undergrad, in my late 20’s attending a Continuing Education Computer Course at Moore and again in my 30’s as a grad. It was only after grad school that I realized I couldn’t be without this membership and have consistently been a member since. Being a member not only allows me to visit as much as I want for free, but it also gives me the opportunity to attend lectures, tours, workshops and other events for free or at a discount. It’s like having my own giant house of art and inspiration! My membership also financially benefits the museum and therefore benefits me, so its a win/win. Truly, no artist should be without a museum membership-multiple museums if you can afford it. If you don’t have a local art museum, become a member of the one you frequent most and you’ll soon find yourself visiting and learning more than ever.
Coming up in 2018 is a big change for Art Bite Blog…because this blog has gained so much in popularity this year, I have decided to post twice a month next year. I realize this is nothing compared to what hard core bloggers do, but I truly love sharing and want to share more with you, however, I do need time to paint ; ) Next year, you can look forward to more art tips, demos, curated posts, inspiration and encouragement. To start the year off, January’s posts include my New Year’s Art Resolutions and a story I have only shared in bits and pieces about a few sad years I when I just couldn’t paint and how I got my groove back. I look forward to sharing my story with you.
Wishing you all the very best of this Holiday Season. Thank you so much for reading and supporting this blog, see you soon in 2018!